Legislation would give first responders access to military technologies

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.?Congress is considering legislation that would help first responders take advantage of the military's advanced technologies.

A provision in the Defense Authorization Bill, pending before Congress, would require the secretary of Defense to appoint a senior official to ensure the transfer of technology to state and local police, fire departments, emergency medical services and other first responders, according to Pete Verga, principal deputy assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense.

That appointee will likely be Paul McHale, first assistant secretary of Defense for homeland defense, Verga said this week at a gathering of military, civilian and industry leaders at an Army homeland defense conference.

The conference was sponsored by the Communications-Electronic Command, the Program Executive Officer Intelligence for Electronic Warfare and Sensors, the Program Executive Officer for Command, Control and Communications Tactical, and the Program Executive Officer for Enterprise Information Systems.

The Defense provision ensures that commercially developed technologies, such as night goggles and thermal imagers, are made available to police and fire departments, although the provision does not provide funding to help first responders buy the technologies, he said. Instead the Homeland Security Department's Office of Emergency Preparedness will offer grants to help fund the transfers.

Such a provision could have really helped years ago, said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who spoke at the conference. Weldon said he responded to an earthquake in San Francisco several years ago when a freeway collapsed. At the scene, he watched first responders digging through pounds of debris trying to find signs of life.

"I thought, why aren't they using thermal imagers?" Weldon said. "The military developed them 15 years ago. In the years 2003 and 2004, we've got to work smarter, to do more collaboration, to transfer technology quicker," Weldon added.

In addition, Weldon said, Sept.11, 2001, highlighted America's dire need of an integrated domestic communications system so that all National Guard, firefighters, police and other first responders can communicate at disaster scenes?from wildfires to earthquakes. Weldon said a friend of his, the former chief of fire and rescue operations in New York, first told him of the need for an integrated system to link first responders 10 years ago during the first World Trade Center bombing.

Unfortunately, Weldon said, his friend died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and never got to see his suggestion become reality.

Dawn S. Onley writes for Government Computer News

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